Thursday, April 25, 2013

Chicago: it’s so many cities in one!

What I most enjoy about the character of Chicago is that it has so many characters.

The differing neighborhoods and elements of society that come together within the city limits literally create a condition in which you could take two life-long Chicagoans, compare their stories and find totally different circumstances.

I wish the lettering could remain beyond the museum exhibit's end in May. Photographs by Gregory Tejeda
YET THEY’RE BOTH fully legitimate in claiming their “life-long” status that might come across to some as boasting. So be it.

It creates for an area where if one is diligent and adventurous enough to travel about the city, one can encounter so many differing experiences. I might be approaching age 50 in just a few more years, yet there are still unseen delights I feel the need to experience without having to travel anywhere.

Which is why this weblog, on many occasions, has proclaimed the wonderfulness of Chicago – even if there are certain elements that might make some people question our sense, even if they truly do add to the overall character of the city.

Life isn’t always pretty, and Chicago at times reflects that reality – while also creating a sense of hope that these problem areas (which in some cases are only problems if your sensibilities were formed by rural communities that were isolated from the rest of the world) will be overcome.

MY NEED TO state a perspective about Chicago was inspired by the New York Times, which on Sunday published what purported to be a “book review” about three new volumes written about differing aspects of our city. Although I have to confess that I saw it, put it aside to read until later, and didn’t get around to it until after I heard from others about how allegedly “outrageous” it was.

Some have interpreted the essay by DePaul University drama professor Rachel Shteir as being a “hit job” on the city. How dare this dame from Noo Yawk say anything bad about us!?!

The one-time 'world's busiest' corner
I’m not going to get all worked up over her, in part because I don’t know anything about her. Although from reading this essay, I get the sense she wishes she were in New York.

And not just anywhere, but Manhattan – the downtown area. The glitz and glamour, and the kind of people who think places like Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens are an embarrassment to be hidden away.

EVEN THOUGH I’D argue they are the “true” New York that give that city its character. The kind of people who get worked up over Manhattan are the same kinds who think all those touristy joints out on Navy Pier are the “true” Chicago.

She can have her opinion. I really don’t care. I remember when I lived in other cities, I was considered the insufferable one because I could easily talk about the wonders of Chicago, and couldn’t wait to return.

Although the one line from her essay that caught my attention was her bit that Chicago winters seem more mild these days, “thanks to global warming.” I’m sure the ideologues who want to believe that global warming is a liberal myth will spend the rest of their lives hounding her for expressing such a sentiment.

The way City Hall, the state government building and the former Bismarck Hotel come together make Randolph and LaSalle streets an intense political intersection.
But back to Chicago and what makes it unique, and why we realize that people like Texas Gov. Rick Perry are just being "dinks" when they try to trash us and steal our business entities. Deep down, they probably wish they were us.

WE HAVE THE cultural and business amenities (the symphony orchestra, the mercantile exchange, just to name a couple) that ensure the city has significance beyond the occasional “Chicago” dateline that crops up in out-of-town newspapers when they publish stories about the occasional crime occurring here.

Some still wish they could shop here
Yet we also have vibrant neighborhoods that exist in-and-of themselves. There are those people whose lives don’t revolve around a downtown viewpoint. You can even take your pick about what to see. What some claim as excessive segregation is also the notion that so many differing groups have their own communities – rather than a generic mish-mash of people that loses its character.

One can easily find the downtown hustle and bustle of millions of people co-existing (which personally, I have always found to provide a greater sense of privacy than being in a tiny community where everyone feels compelled to mind the business of everybody around them).

But just the other day, my duties in writing for one of the daily newspapers in the suburbs took me out to the shores of Lake Calumet.

You could almost forget you're in Chicago ...
I’M TALKING THAT body of water that usually is kept fenced in by the Illinois International Port District – but which also has unique environmental opportunities.

It was a trip to be standing out in the prairie grass just a few feet away from the water feeling that sense of isolation – yet also knowing that if I turned to the south, I’d be able to see the Port of Chicago. And a view to the east would show me the Bishop Ford Freeway and the structures of the Pullman neighborhood off in the distance.

Yet at no point was I outside the city of Chicago. The city limits were literally about three miles further south (and the state line about three miles to the east).

... until you turn around and see the Port of Chicago in the distance

Chicago is, the hope that someday a Lake Calumet might actually be revitalized enough to show that nature and urban life can co-exist.

IT ALSO IS, the belief that the oft-random violence that occurs here (and in other places too, check out the “Five dead in Manchester, Ill.” story that cropped up Wednesday morning) really is of the fluke nature and does not define our essential character. The way we respond to it does.
And it is that sense that we have easy access to those cultural amenities. I once had a friend try to downplay that aspect by snapping, “Who goes to the Opera every day?” Yet it beats not even having the option!

A Cub-free zone!?!
In fact, about the closest I can come to a negative about Chicago is when the talk turns to baseball and the Chicago Cubs.

That much losing on a steady basis can be downright depressing. Thank the Lord those of us who couldn’t take it without experiencing mental collapse have another ball club to follow.


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